CARL STARFELT has leapt to the defence of young team-mate Yuki Kobayashi.

The 22-year-old Japanese left-sided centre-back, who joined Celtic in the January transfer window, has struggled in recent defeats at Ibrox and Easter Road where the champions have uncharacteristically conceded seven goals.

Back-four rock Cameron Carter-Vickers, of course, was ruled out for the remaining six games of the campaign following last month’s 1-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win over Michael Beale’s side when it was revealed he would undergo knee surgery.

RISE AND SHINE…Carl Starfelt hovers high above the Aberdeen defenders to thump in Celtic’s third goal in the 5-0 Flag Day romp at Parkhead.

The presence and reliability of the USA World Cup star, who sealed a £6million move from Spurs to the Hoops last summer after his impressive season-long loan, has been missed in a rearguard that has looked shaky in the rundown to the crusade.

Ange Postecoglou and his players are now 90 minutes away from achieving only the eighth domestic silverware clean sweep in the club’s history when they take on Inverness Caley Thistle in the soccer showpiece at Hampden on Saturday evening.

Tomoki Iwata partnered Starfelt in the 5-0 win over Aberdeen at Parkhead at the weekend when the league curtain came down on the second successive title triumph – and the club’s eleventh crown in 12 years.

The Swede isn’t sure who will partner him against the Championship side at the national stadium, but he gave a massive vote of confidence to Kobayashi.

PUSH OFF…Yuki Kobayashi and Hearts dangerman Lawrence Shankland tussle for possession during Celtic’s 2-0 win at Tynecastle to seal the second successive title.

Starfelt insisted: “It is not fair to only judge someone based on three games where the team haven’t been playing good.

“You can’t look only at these three games and judge someone because then all of the 11 players on the pitch would be bad players. It is not as easy as that.

“Also, the games he has played before he has shown himself to be really good on the ball and a good defender, as well.

“I have to keep on building a relationship with him because he has good qualities that, hopefully, he will show more of in the future.”

The experienced 27-year-old international campaigner, one of Postecoglou’s first buys for the Hoops at £4.2million from Rubin Kazan in July 2021, believes a key factor for the title kings is the ability to shut out external noise.

JUST CHAMPION…Joe Hart is the last line of defence as Celtic’s five Japanese stars celebrate the title win, Kyogo Furuhashi, Yuki Kobayashi, Tomoki Iwata, Reo Hatate and Daizen Maeda.

Starfelt, speaking to The Scotsman, continued: “Yeah, I think all the players need to have a little bit of that mindset.

“We touch on that within the group, to keep everything within the group and not be disturbed by noise, what fans think or what the media think or says.

“To really listen to each other in here, listen to the manager and the other players, and maybe your family and people who really care about you. Other than that, you don’t need to listen to anyone. All the players in the team know their potential as footballers.

“It is obviously not very easy at a club like Celtic, but the thing is if you manage to do it you can get better from it, as well. Become psychologically stronger through staying strong in adversity, in these situations. But it almost sounds now as if our season has been s–t.”

Starfelt will discover soon enough which of the January J-League recruits he will partner in the grand finale at the weekend and added: “I am trying to help in the best way I can.

“I’m sure everyone on the pitch is doing the same.

“I will, of course, try to speak to him and help him, as I will do with all the other players.”

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